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Living with Dementia – Safety and Dignity first

As the prevalence of dementia continues to rise globally, it is becoming increasingly important to raise awareness and help people feel safer by supporting them to create environments that minimize risks and enhance the safety and well-being of individuals living with dementia.

One significant aspect of this endeavour is ensuring that the home environment is tailored to meet the unique needs and challenges of the person living with dementia. In this article, we will explore practical strategies to reduce risks for individuals in their own homes.

Modify the Physical Environment:

    • Clear Pathways: Keep living spaces clutter-free and ensure clear pathways to prevent tripping hazards.
    • Proper Lighting: Adequate lighting is crucial. Install bright, non-glare lighting in key areas to improve visibility and reduce confusion.
    • Secure Flooring: Choose slip-resistant flooring to reduce the risk of falls. Rugs and carpets should be removed or secured to the floor to prevent tripping.
    • Other adaptations: An Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist can help suggest further adaptations/ equipment that is relevant to the individual.  Examples can range from stair lifts to stove hob covers and safety valves.  Other equipment may include installation of grab rails, bathroom/shower aide facilities etc. (See Section 2 below)
    • Avoid changes: Change is hard for everyone, but persons with dementia find it harder to adapt to unfamiliar environments.  Avoid moving furniture around or changing layout of your home. 
    • Use visual aids: Make life easier for the person with dementia by using visual aids.  Labelling essential areas such as bathroom, kitchen cupboards etc. will help them get around the home with more ease and confidence.  Colour coding is also a good strategy – get guidance from a professional to help you work this out!

Implement Safety Measures:

    • Door Security: Install locks or alarms on doors to prevent wandering. Consider using door sensors that alert caregivers when a door is opened.  Inserting a second lock on the front door which is not at eye level can help avoid wandering away from the house.  A professional will help you make sure that this is done without compromising on health and safety standards.
    • Stove and Appliance Safety: Unplug appliances when not in use and consider installing automatic shut-off devices on stoves to prevent kitchen accidents.
    • Medication Management: Establish a system for managing medications, such as pill organizers or electronic reminders, to ensure the correct dosage is taken at the right time.

Promote Cognitive Engagement:

    • Memory Aids: Use visual cues, labels, and signs to help with orientation. Labelling drawers, doors, and objects can assist in recalling the purpose of each.
    • Routine and Structure: Establish a daily routine to provide a sense of predictability and stability. Consistency in daily activities can help reduce confusion and anxiety.
    • Cognitive stimulation: Engaging the person in activities which promote cognitive stimulation according to their level of understanding help retain interest and possibly delay the trajectory of dementia.  Activities may include going for a walk, dancing to a favourite song, singing songs from their youth/ childhood, doing puzzles, arts, crafts, music and other creative activities.

Create a Supportive Social Environment:

    • Caregiver Education: Educate family members and caregivers about dementia-related challenges and effective communication strategies.
    • Social Interaction: Encourage social activities and maintain connections with friends and family to prevent feelings of isolation.

Utilize Assistive Technologies:

    • GPS Trackers: For those prone to wandering, GPS trackers can be helpful in locating individuals if they become lost.
    • Smart Home Devices: Explore the use of smart home technologies to automate safety features, such as motion-activated lights or smart locks.

Regular Health Monitoring:

    • Regular Check-ups: Schedule regular health check-ups to monitor overall health and address any emerging issues promptly.
    • Stay Active: Encourage appropriate physical activity to maintain mobility and reduce the risk of falls.

Caregiver Support:

    • Respite Care: Ensure that caregivers have access to respite care to prevent burnout and maintain their own well-being.
    • Education and Training: Equip caregivers with the necessary skills and knowledge through training programs and support groups.

Conclusion:

Creating a safe and supportive home environment for individuals living with dementia requires a multi-faceted approach. By employing various strategic measures, it is possible to significantly reduce risks and enhance the overall quality of life for those with dementia in their own homes. As we continue to learn more about dementia and its management, these strategies will play a crucial role in empowering individuals to age in their own environment and on their own terms; with dignity and safety.

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